A George Brown alumnus finds sweet success as a chocolatier

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After a decade of whipping up some culinary magic in five-star hotels worldwide, Diego Mendoza decided he was ready to take his career to the next level. Wanting to refine his culinary expertise and explore entrepreneurial possibilities, he enrolled in the Culinary Management program at George Brown College.

This life-changing decision led him to establish Chocovalley, an artisanal chocolate retailer, where a deep appreciation for ethically sourced cacao beans and expert craftsmanship are at the heart of every delicious treat. 

Diego had a unique challenge navigating the classroom landscape during the pandemic in 2021, since things had changed quite a bit since he was last in school ten years earlier. Although he initially had to adjust to the new world of masked faces and social distancing, he was eager to dive in and learn more about the business side of his industry. He thrived in the demanding environment, where his professors encouraged him to set ambitious new goals. 

While still working on fine-tuning his chocolate-making skills, Diego enjoyed gaining the leadership and marketing skills necessary to build a successful business. "It was totally different coming back to school as an older student," he says. "I already had technical skills in the kitchen, but all the business courses in the culinary management program really helped me improve." 

Launching a bean-to-bar business

With his newfound knowledge and entrepreneurial drive, Diego launched Chocovalley, fulfilling his dream of bringing the bean-to-bar concept to life. He creates his chocolate from ethically sourced cacao beans, noting that beans from different regions have unique flavour profiles and aromas. 

"Most people like chocolate, but they don’t know how it’s made," he says. "My bean-to-bar concept helps customers know where the beans come from, and tells them the story behind the chocolate." 

Ready for the Valentine's Day rush

As Valentine's Day approaches, Diego will reach a sweet milestone: his first Valentine’s running his chocolate shop. Predicting a rush larger than even Christmas, he's making sure to prepare well ahead of time. 

"Chocolate, when crafted properly, isn't perishable," he explains. "It can last a couple of months under ideal conditions." This allows him to pre-make his decadent chocolate bars, ensuring a steady supply for eager customers. However, his artisan bonbons remain a fresh affair. "The ganache needs that special attention," he says, "and I like to create them based on the needs of our customers." 

In anticipation of the holiday, Diego is creating handcrafted hollow chocolate hearts with the words "XOXO" and "Love" imprinted on them. He’s also offering a custom Love bar, where customers can choose the country origin of the chocolate. Plus, he has a 25-piece assorted box of bonbons with special Valentine’s flavours: rose-raspberry, spicy mango, hazelnut praline, vanilla-mint, and Colombian coffee. 

Future plans for a brick-and-mortar store

Looking to the future, Diego has big plans for his business. His immediate vision is a single Toronto brick-and-mortar, where people can purchase his chocolate in person. Beyond that, he’d like to open a dedicated production centre, so he can distribute his delectable creations widely. 

As for aspiring chocolatiers, he has some advice to share: "Learn all the basics—the tempering process is a must. Travel to different places with cacao plantations and discover where the nibs are sourced. Enrol in master classes and learn different concepts from the best chocolatiers."  

"This career is very exciting and rewarding," he says. "There's so much to learn, and I keep learning more every day." 

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